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Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is GOP

Herschel Walker, Bill Bennett, and Donald Trump’s legacy.
December 6, 2022
Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is GOP
(Composite / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Reagan-era Education Secretary William Bennett had a moment last week: On November 29, Simon & Schuster released a thirtieth-anniversary updated edition of his 1993 bestseller, The Book of Virtues. The 831-page collection of moral stories was intended to help teach children (and their parents) about self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty, and faith.

Two years later, Bennett published a sort of sequel anthology, The Moral Compass, and three years after that he came out with a book about Bill Clinton’s scandals, The Death of Outrage. A true updated Book of Virtues would be called The Death of Virtue. That is Donald Trump’s most egregious legacy to the Republican party. Herschel Walker, the GOP candidate in today’s Georgia Senate runoff, is Trump’s latest “protégé,” and Bennett himself is a bewildering embodiment of the conservative journey from preachy self-righteousness to mind-boggling hypocrisy and opportunism.

Bill Clinton, who famously said that “character is a journey, not a destination” and admitted in 1992 to “causing pain in my marriage,” was in the White House when The Book of Virtues first came out. Bennett wrote in his original introduction that “moral anchors and moorings have never been more necessary.” That, says Simon & Schuster in a blurb for the new edition, is “even more true today” given that so many people are “unsure of what is valuable and what is not.”

There are so many ironies, where to begin?

How about the 1998 Clinton impeachment stemming from an extramarital affair? The leading Republicans investigating and impeaching him were publicly priggish while behaving badly in private. As for Bennett, by 2016 he was celebrating Trump, a man unacquainted with all ten of Bennett’s yardsticks for good character, and still vilifying the Clintons.

On October 31, 2016, Bennett and F.H. Buckley published a call for Republicans to unite under a #NeverHillary banner: “It’s time to put aside our differences, elect Trump, and defeat a candidate under an FBI investigation.” Trump was the only way to prevent a “corrupt” candidate from becoming an imperial president, they wrote. A day before Trump was inaugurated, Bennett said he saw in Trump “a lot of what I saw in Ronald Reagan.”

To be fair, the FBI never mentioned that Trump was also under investigation. And when Bennett ripped Democrats who said they wouldn’t attend Trump’s inauguration, he didn’t know Trump himself would skip Joe Biden’s four years later. Bennett became a Trump adviser and enabler. By December 2020, he was casually spewing election denier claptrap—the kind that seems to worry his publisher—about a “fixed” election controlled by “Democratic operatives,” rife with “systematic corruption” and “statistical anomalies.”

Bennett was close enough to Trump that they spoke on the morning of January 6th—before Trump’s speech inciting the mob that marched on the Capitol—but Bennett told CBS’s Robert Costa he couldn’t “recall” what was said. He now says Trump should not run in 2024—not because of Trump’s desperate attempts to keep power after the 2020 election, and not because Trump is the last person children should emulate, but because Trump can’t win.

Only someone like Trump would look at former NFL star Walker, his celebrity friend in Texas, and think: Perfect, I’ll convince him to run for the Senate in Georgia. Does character count? The runoff will tell.

Walker’s ex-girlfriend, Cheryl Parsa, told the Daily Beast that Walker cheated, lied, went into rages and attacked her physically during their five-year relationship. Her allegations of violence, cheating, and lies, published last Thursday, mirror accounts from Walker’s therapist, ex-wife, and other women in police records and interviews, and in his adult son Christian’s furious tweets about his father.

Beyond that, Walker has misrepresented his education (he did not graduate from the University of Georgia, much less in the top 1 percent of his class, and was not high school valedictorian). He has misrepresented his business record and his resume. He was never an FBI agent or a cop. It’s unclear where he lives—Georgia? Texas?—and whether he has violated election-related laws or rules in either state.

Then there’s abortion. Walker says he supports state and national abortion bans and opposes all exceptions, yet two women have credibly claimed that Walker pressured them to have abortions and paid for them. Walker claims to stand for “conservative family values,” but the Daily Beast reported that he lied to his own campaign staff about three “secret” out-of-wedlock children before finally admitting he had four kids overall. This from a candidate who has said “the fatherless home is a major, major problem.”

Former President Barack Obama, at an October rally for the incumbent whom Walker hopes to unseat, Sen. Raphael Warnock, said that people’s private lives are their own business—except when it comes to “issues of character, being in the habit of not telling the truth, being in the habit of saying one thing and doing another, being in the habit of having certain rules for you and your important friends, and other rules for everybody else. That says something about the kind of leader you are going to be.”

It also says something about the evolution of the Republican party. Character should have disqualified Trump in 2016 and Walker this year. It is profoundly disheartening that Walker ran so close to Sen. Raphael Warnock on Nov. 8 and astonishing that in the lead-up to today’s runoff polls still show a close race.

Warnock is a solid senator who understands the job and his state. He has “put in the work,” in Obama’s phrase. If Georgia trades him in for Walker, it will be the ultimate triumph of the nihilistic “nothing matters” voter.

Jill Lawrence

Jill Lawrence is an opinion writer and the author of The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock. She previously covered national politics for the AP and USA Today and was the managing editor for politics at National Journal. Homepage: Twitter: @JillDLawrence.